Interesting look at the phenomenon of the “Tumblr fan“. In this case it’s about comics fandom, but it’s applicable to a lot of media, and the main point of contention is an anonymous source’s complaint that people in Tumblr-based fandom are fans of MOMENTS but won’t buy anything, where “buy” here seems to refer to single issue comics.1 The article goes into why this may or may not be so, but I actually think it’s kind of beside the point. What is the point is that the unit of consumption for any one piece of media–and the method of consumption of that unit–has changed and is changing for people in their teens and twenties. Nowadays, the unit of consumption really is about the moment, where “moment” can be a gifset, sure, but it can also be a con ticket or a fanfic. Importantly, it’s something that has a social value, not necessarily the original creative product. In this model, of course physical floppies don’t do well, because physical floppies are difficult to turn into gifsets and reading them alone by yourself is not the way New Fandom is done. (Digital single issues, on the other hand…)

I think this focus on social value in fandom is why TV shows and movies nowadays do much better in fandom than books and comics,2 why many fans prefer both reading and writing fanfic as opposed to profic,3 why Welcome to Night Vale‘s success rose exponentially when they started doing live shows, and why Homestuck fandom congregates around fantrolls and cosplay. The latter two are especially notable in that they give away their “traditional” unit of consumption–i.e. the show and the comic–away for free, and yet both are commercially successful.

Creators and producers working in traditional commercial media, particularly those my age and older, are, I think, spectacularly bad at engaging with (read: monetising) the New Fandom. That’ll change, because everything always does, but I think some people are in for some nasty shocks along the way.

Meanwhile, Tumblr fans? You just keep on keeping on, you wonderful little tastemakers you.

  1. For the record, I’ve been buying comics since I was a teenager back in the 90s–long long long before Tumblr–and I never used to buy single issues, either. Well, hardly never. Single issues are a pain in the fucking ass. They’re difficult to store, too short, too easily damaged, and, potentially, too valuable as collectible items rather than consumable products. Give me a beat-up old trade any day. []
  2. Books and comics that don’t have visual adaptations, that is. []
  3. Fanfic is nowadays inevitably more accessible on platforms that facilitate social exchanges in a way that profic isn’t. I think there’s a huge potential market for ebook reader developers in here, but Silicon Valley’s current monetisation focus on “all public, all the time” is really, really bad at leveraging it. Think of a version of Kindle with a friends list, where you could comment and annotate books, in line, and engage in discussions about them in public or with specific individuals or groups of friends. Doing this is technologically easy, but legally and socially difficult, for a variety of reasons mostly having to do with the Old Media of publishing not having caught up in the new media world. I’m also not sure how you’d monetise such a product. I do know I’d really fucking want one. []